Zanzibar's all year round festivals that you can lose yourself in and revive your soul

Zanzibar evokes dreams of romance and mystery and the reality will not disappoint you, it is the ultimate Indian Ocean experience.

Zanzibar is however one such place, even the name alone ‘Zanzibar’ evokes dreams of romance and mystery and the reality will not disappoint you, It is the ultimate Indian Ocean experience

Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator.

Zanzibar’s colourfull history is an epic saga of travellers and traders, raiders and colonisers.

To its shores came Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Malays, Persians, Portuguese, Arabs, Dutch and the British, each leaving behind a legacy of their stay.

Here are just some notable events you definitely need to sample.

Mwaka Kogwa – July

Huge bonfires, mocks fights between men, playful banter between men and women filled with music is what Mwaka Kogwa festival is all about.

This four day festival, which marks the arrival of the Shiraz New Year takes place in July.

Historically, the Shirazis were the first set of non-Africans to settle in Zanzibar and over time aspects of their culture have been absorbed and given localized names by the native Swahilis. One of such is the Mwaka Kogwa.

Although celebrated in many parts of Zanzibar. It is in Makunduchi, a little town on the southeastern tip of Unguja (Zanzibar Island) where the most enthusiastic and elaborate displays of the ancient ceremony takes place.

From all over Tanzania, people flock in to see this unique celebration where the people whip each other with banana stems.

Several rituals are held to ease out the old year while ushering in the new one, however the highlight and the most exciting event occurs on the first day the festival.

During the ‘combat’ which involves only the male, the women who are all nicely attired in their beautiful dresses move about the fields singing in the local dialect and taunting the men. They say things like: “If you do not buy me a piece of cloth, you don’t get to make love to me.”Although the men usually never respond, it has changed in recent times when they riposte with:“We don’t want you anymore. We prefer the city women who are available everywhere we put our foot.”

Ngalawa – August

This is an annual boat race held every August and features the double-outrigger canoes of the local people.

Sauti za Busara - February

This is East Africa’s premier music festival and highlights the best music  from the Swahili-speaking world.

Hip hop, R&B Rap and Reggae along with the more traditional ngoma, taarab and religious music are always on the menu, plenty of it.

For three days Africa biggest acts some coming as far as Morocco descends at Zanzibar and brings the island to a standstill with their electrifying music.

Sauti za Busara is more than ‘just’ a music festival: it contributes to the growth and professionalization of the creative sector in the region; provides learning, exchange and employment opportunities, and promotes Zanzibar globally as a leading destination for cultural tourism.

Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) – July

Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) is the highlight of Zanzibar’s artistic and cultural calendar.

It is the largest multi-disciplinary cultural festival of its kind in East Africa and features music, the arts and the spirit of the island itself.

Thousands of filmmakers, film-lovers and tourists flock to the longest running film festival in the region with an average of over 40 countries represented.

Over 30 local, regional and international acts are showcased on the two week events held every July.

ZIFF is renowned all over the world for its high quality African Film, Music, Art and Design and  is listed in the top 5 film and music festivals in Africa.

The ZIFF Festival of the Dhow Countries is organized by ZIFF, a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in 1998 in Zanzibar to promote and showcase the culture of the Dhow Countries. Jahazi Jazz and Literary Festival – September

Inspiring learning through literature and music is at the heart of Jahazi Festival.

Local and international writers, musicians, festivalgoers and the community all come together in an open air jazz concerts at the old fort to partake in poetry reading, storytelling, cultural walks and the very best after parties in Stone Town.

The festival offers the perfect platform to share ideas, learn from each other, create collaborative works, inspire and educate while nurturing a culture that values education and peace.

Stone Town Food Festival – October

Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site comes alive every October when over 30 hotels and restaurants from across Zanzibar come together to host the Stone Town Food Festival.

The gastronomic adventure celebrating the cookery heritage of Zanzibar brings six-day mouthwatering food events served with a taste of history, folklore and traditional performance.

The Food Festival is an informal collaboration between Stone Town restaurants each offering a special two course menu through Oct 13-16, including also any cultural expression, be it art, music or whatever each establishment wishes to display.

This festival aims to showcases stone town’s unique culture and rich culinary heritage ranging from traditional Swahili cuisine through new additions from other countries, as well as vendors and producers of interesting fare as well as increasing food and nutritional awareness, inspired by the UN World Food Day.

Eid El Fitr

This three day festival is marked by eating, drinking and smoking (smoking is prohibited during daylight hours) to mark the end of Ramadan.

The date is dependent on the Islamic calendar.


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